The US Navy has supplied Egypt with high-tech warships worth US$1.1 billion, as the military institution continues to arm its allies in the region. The delivery comes as American military officials are reportedly considering establishing an airbase for aerial drones in North Africa, either in Tunisia or Egypt, to help fight Islamic State militants in Libya.
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the US chief of naval operations, visited Alexandria’s Abu Qir naval base on July 11-13 to reaffirm “commitment to partnering with Egypt and to enhance regional security,” according to a statement issued by the American Embassy in Cairo on Monday.
Greenert is reported to have toured the naval port and inspected the four Fast Missile Craft warships that the US sent over last month. According to the embassy’s statement, this “investment by the United States in the bilateral strategic partnership will provide an enhanced capability to patrol and protect Egyptian and international maritime interests.”
The admiral’s visit coincides with talks between US military officials and North African statements regarding the deployment of American aerial drones on either Tunisian or Egyptian territory in order to confront the Islamic State forces in Libya, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Such military drones could allegedly be used for both surveillance and tactical airstrikes against insurgents.
Quoting an unnamed senior US military official, the Wall Street Journal reported that establishing a drone base in proximity to Islamic State strongholds in Libya would help America to “fill gaps in our understanding of what’s going on.”
On Monday, the Wall Street Journal also reported that America is using the Italian Naval Air Station Sigonella, based in Sicily, to conduct drone flights over Libya. However, surveillance operations from this base are frequently canceled due to cloudy skies over the Mediterranean Sea and other weather-related challenges.
The closest and most ideal location for such a drone base is thus said to be either in neighboring Tunisia or Egypt.
President Barack Obama’s administration had considered freezing the transfer of American weaponry to Egypt in the aftermath of former President Mohamed Morsi’s military-backed ouster on July 3, 2013, which resulted in widespread human rights violations.
However, in late 2014, the US lifted a freeze on the delivery of 10 Apache helicopter gunships to Egypt — an indicator of improved relations, especially after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration sought to diversify its sources of weaponry by turning to Russia, France and China.
Then in March of this year, Obama approved the delivery of F-16 fighter jets, Harpoon missiles and Abrams tanks to Egypt.
The US is currently easing restrictions on military aid to Egypt, and is reportedly in the process of fully resuming its annual delivery of US$1.3 billion worth of weaponry in response to the expansion of Islamic State affiliates beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria in 2014, who now extend to Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.
In recent weeks, the US Embassy has released statements on its official website condemning Saturday’s bombing Italian Consulate in downtown Cairo, and the recent coordinated deadly attacks on security forces in Sinai and the assassination of the prosecutor general.
“We reiterate our steadfast support for Egypt in its fight against terrorism,” read an embassy statement.
Nevertheless, rights organizations including Amnesty International and the New York-based Human Rights Watch have called on the US and other countries to halt their sales of teargas, armored personnel carriers, crowd control weapons, military helicopters and small arms to Egypt, as Sisi’s security forces are reported to have repeatedly used such equipment to crush peaceful protests, resulting in the deaths of several hundred demonstrators.